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Who's on first? With Bush 41
baseball cards, it's hard to tell

The intrigue doesn't quite match up to his tenure as CIA chief. Still, spy aficionados and conspiracy theorists might want to take a look at the Mystery of the George HW Bush ’48 Baseball Cards.

The story begins in February 1990, when Topps, the venerable trading-card maker, presented then-President Bush with a specially manufactured set of cards. The front bore a photo of Bush in his Yale varsity first baseman's uniform; on the back were batting stats. (Bush's 1947-48 average: .251.)

But wait. In March 1990, People magazine reported that the owners of an Illinois baseball-card shop (aptly named Who's on First) had stumbled upon a Topps Bush card the previous December—two months before Topps presented a binder full of cards to the president in the Oval Office. Topps, claiming it printed only 100 cards and gave them all to Bush, "accused the card shop partners of being in possession of stolen property," the magazine reported.

Jump ahead 23 years, to this summer. John Sununu, an avid card collector and White House chief of staff during the first Bush administration, "submitted a small group" of the 1990 cards to an outfit called Professional Sports Authenticator. The company was puzzled, because Sununu's cards "exhibited a thick, clear coating"; Bush cards that the company had previously encountered were uncoated.

“I said, now, wait a minute, I’ve got a fairly good provenance,” Sununu tells the Associated Press.

After investigation, "we've now confirmed there are two types of cards," PSA president Joe Orlando says in a press release: "one type issued directly to the White House and a version that merely escaped the manufacturer."

Merely escaped? The AP article elaborates: Orlando "was told by a reputable dealer that a former Topps employee sold 70 of the uncoated cards after leaving the company." But, he adds, "it’s not like one is real and one is not real. They’re both real.”

And what about the timing? Is it mere coincidence that this affair resurfaced just before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the return of Bush—at 89, the oldest living ex-president—to the White House?

For that matter, is it coincidence that a 20-years-after-the-fact blog post about Bush receiving an honorary degree from Princeton appears on the same web page as an item about Moe Berg, another Ivy League first baseman turned spy? Inquiring minds want to know.

Filed under George HW Bush, baseball, Topps
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